Hosea the prophet ministered during the eighth century BC and focused his attention primarily on the northern kingdom of Israel. During the early part of Hosea’s ministry, Jeroboam II ruled over Israel and the northern kingdom enjoyed a good deal of prosperity. But spiritually and morally, the Israelites were bankrupt, having fallen into idolatry that would ultimately cause God to drive them out of their land in 722 BC.
The people were in a sad condition indeed, and part of what made it so tragic was that the people had failed to be what God called them to be—a royal priesthood and a light to the nations (Ex. 19:5–6; Isa. 42:6). This failure occurred despite God’s having graciously adopted Israel as His son, as Hosea 11:1 indicates. Israel was not true to its filial identity and was finally cast out of the land. But Hosea also saw that God’s anger against His people would not last forever; He would provide a renewed Israel who would serve the Lord faithfully (vv. 2–12; see 2:14–23).
That hope for a new Israel—a true Israel that would embody all that God called Israel to be—persisted across the centuries into the New Testament era. This hope was finally fulfilled in the incarnation of God’s true Son by nature, Jesus Christ. Matthew tells us that Jesus fulfills Hosea 11 (Matt. 2:13–15). He is the true Israel, the faithful Israel who succeeds where old covenant Israel failed. Like ancient Israel, He came up out of Egypt, passed through the waters, and was tested in the wilderness (2:13–15; 3:13–4:11; see Ex. 12:40–42; 14:1–31; 16:4). Unlike old covenant Israel, however, Jesus passed the test. He is therefore worthy to be called God’s Son because of who He is in His deity and because of what He accomplished in His humanity.
The good news of the gospel tells us that we can be the true Israel of God as well. If we are in Christ, we share in the privileges and relationship He enjoys as God’s true Son. We are not sons of God by nature; rather, we are sons of God by adoption, His beloved children in Christ. As such, we inherit all of the promises given to old covenant Israel. Those promises of God that Israel would rule over her enemies and enjoy abundant covenant blessings (for example, Isa. 14:1–2)—those promises are for all of God’s people, the true Israel of God consisting of Jews and Gentiles who are united to Christ by faith alone. In Him we are the true Israel of God, heirs of the glorious destiny promised to God’s old covenant people (Zeph. 3:14–20).
Ultimately, the Israel of God is not an ethnic designation but a spiritual one. God’s covenant people includes all those who put their faith in the true fulfillment of Israel, Jesus our Lord. Together, Jews and Gentiles united to Christ have a common and exalted end. Let us rejoice in our status as the Israel of God and work to break down needless divisions in the body of Christ. God’s people are one Israel in the Savior.